| 2.3°C Dublin

The truth about a liar and fantasist who sullied the good name of a heroic policeman

THOSE of you who come to this space, usually as a last resort, and probably on the loo, bored to death, and with nothing left in the newspaper to read before you put these column inches to good use, do not expect to read essays in praise of Shinners.

So if you revel in 1916, et cetera, take out your scissors, cut out this column, and proceed about your personal hygiene . . .

And now, for my two remaining readers: Four Courts books recently published 'The Memoirs of John M Regan: A Catholic in the RIC and the RUC 1909-48', and it once again propelled me into the perfectly useless world of what might have been.

For there's no point in asking what Irish history would have consisted of without the 1916 Rising, because we don't know. That's the way of history. No one could have imagined that the Nazi invasion of Poland would have led to Australia going to war with France in Syria in 1841, or Brazilians fighting Austrians in the Italian Appennines in 1844.

But we do know that 1916 unleashed a tidal wave of violence which has pursued us down the decades; and in response to that violence, we have always depended on the John M Regans of this island to set right the apple-cart.

And this is where I really infuriate you, dear readers; but for both for emotion and intellectual reasons, in the war between the IRA and the RIC/DMP, I side with the police. Sorry, but that's the way I feel.

I believe in the rule of law and peaceful change. I believe in the likes of John Regan, who in 1920 was faced with appalling and murderous violence, and responded in a lawful, measured and professional way - as did most RIC men.

Yet the history of RIC has been contaminated by republican lies, perjury and falsehood. None is more spectacular that the calumnies of Jeremiah Mee, an RIC recruit in 1920 who invented the alleged - and notorious - speech by Lieut Col Gerard Smyth DSO, Divisional Police Commissioner for Munster, which he supplied to Napoli McKenna, editor of Irish Bulletin.


Now, any journalist will agree that you forget spoken words within seconds. Yet Mee was apparently able to remember, word-perfect, Smyth's entire speech days after it was allegedly spoken, which in print ran the length of this column, and which exhorted his men to shoot to kill any civilians who were slow to obey their instructions.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

The most famous quote ran: "You may make mistakes occasionally, and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right person sometime.

"The more you shoot the better I shall like you, and I assure you that no policeman will get into trouble for shooting a man."

And so on and so forth. All bilge, of course, (which didn't prevent it being unquestionably accepted ever since by lazy Irish historians, of which, tragically, this country has never had a shortage).

In fact, Smyth was an extremely efficient and decent officer, an honourable Irishman who was passionately attached to the rule of law. One month before his death he issued the following written orders to his men: "A policeman is perfectly justified in shooting any man who is seen with arms and who does not immediately throw up his arms when ordered."

In 1920? Amen to that, I say.

"A policeman is perfectly justified in shooting any man who he has good reason to believe is carrying arms and who does not immediately throw up his arms when ordered."

In 1920? Hear hear, say I.

"I wish to make it perfectly clear to all ranks that I will not tolerate any 'reprisals'. They bring discredit on the police. I will deal most severely with any officer or man concerned in them."


But Smyth is not remembered for these actual words, but for those lies which that wretched Judas Mee - probably assisted by the bitter, termagant McKenna - invented for him, and which soon led to him being murdered by the IRA.

Yet there is no comparison between Mee and Smyth. The former was a liar and a fantasist; the latter a hero who had lost his arm in 1915, was wounded six times in all in the Great War, was four times mentioned in despatches, and received the DSO and Bar.

Yet Irish republicanism, having commanded the narrative of Irish history ever since, has elevated the scoundrel and calumniated the good man.

It does not end there. Gerard's brother George - himself a gallant soldier who had won the DSO and the Military Cross - was shot dead by Dan Breen in Dublin four months after Gerard.

Look, I know this is the sort of stuff that causes many of you to rant and rave, but I did warn you: it's the high price you pay for coming to this column. Killing Irishmen has always seemed to me to be a strangely ineffective way of making other Irishmen like you; but stay! In my thoughts upon the poor murdered Smyth brothers, I have strayed far away from my friend John Regan - about whom, more tomorrow.

Most Watched